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The aim of the Mental Wellbeing Working Group is to promote a positive working environment and to encourage an open culture around mental health and wellbeing.

The Oxford Belles performing at a workshop in the Department of Psychiatry, June 2023 © Shona O'Leary
The Oxford Belles performing a singing workshop in the Department of Psychiatry

As a Department of Psychiatry, many of us spend much of our working lives thinking about mental illness and the impact that this can have on individuals, families and the wider community. Some of us are even actively involved with public engagement activities designed to raise awareness of the importance of mental health. But how much time do we spend thinking about our own mental wellbeing and that of our colleagues? Academia can be a pressure cooker at times – high workloads, uncertain contracts, intense competition and regular rejections have the potential to place people under considerable strain. We know from national surveys (such as this one conducted by the Wellcome Trust) that rates of stress and mental illness amongst academics are high.

Our departmental surveys suggest that our department is generally a very positive place to work; however we know that recent events such as the pandemic have had an impact on staff wellbeing.  In response, we have established a departmental Mental Wellbeing Working Group. The aim of this group is to promote a positive working environment and to encourage an open culture around mental health and wellbeing.


Working Group Members

BA (Hons), MSc, DPhil Susannah Murphy - Associate Professor 

Susannah Murphy (lead)


PhD Arne Mould - Senior Postdoctoral ResearcherBSc (Hons), MRes Chloe Wigg - DPhil StudentDPhil MEng Mark Woolrich - Professor of Computational NeuroscienceMSc(Hons), BSc(Hons) Sorcha Hamilton - Research Assistant

BA Tamara Lewin - Training CoordinatorBSc (Med Sci), MBChB, MRCPsych Thomas Reilly - MRC Clinical Research Training FellowTracy LindseyWendy Howard - Research Manager Isabelle Butcher


Statement of Intent

The aim of this working group is to identify what we can do to further cultivate a working environment that promotes mental wellbeing. We will be working to:

  • Create an open and inclusive culture around mental health and wellbeing
  • Identify and promote best practices for mental health and wellbeing
  • Improve signposting to support for those who need it
  • Further equip managers with the skills they need to effectively support the mental wellbeing of team members
  • Share practical solutions for managing stress at work



The Mental Wellbeing Group cultivating the herb garden In June 2023, the Mental Wellbeing Working Group organised for the Oxford Belles to visit the Department to give a singing workshop and performance. In the Common Room, Lego and jigsaws have been available to work on, while the Mental Wellbeing group also planted a herb garden in the outdoor space. There will also be a departmental picnic and rounders game.
  • In January 2023, we organised a “Menopause in the Workplace” themed month (in collaboration with the Family Friendly and Park Time Working Group).  This included raising awareness of the University’s new menopause guidance, setting up a department Teams channel to facilitate connections/support between those affected by the menopause, promoting menopause training, and holding an informal ‘coffee and chat session’.  More details of these activities can be found here (Internal only)

  • In December 2022, as part of the Department’s ‘Positive Culture’ month, we installed a “Gratitude Tree” in the Department common room.  Members of the Department were encouraged to write on a star something/someone that they are grateful for and hang it on the tree.  In no time at all the tree was covered in positive stars (with a notable number mentioning the new coffee machine!)  We also covered one of the common room tables with a Christmas colouring tablecloth to encourage people to take a few moments out of their busy days to enjoy a spot of mindful colouring.  

  • In October 2022, to mark Mental Health Awareness Day, we set up a ‘Friendship Table’ in the common room (inspired by the Friendship Bench model).  This table had a green tablecloth - the colour of World Mental Health Day - and people were encouraged to sit at this table if they were open to having a conversation with other staff members, particularly those whom they had not previously met.  We provided cake throughout the afternoon and hoped that this would provide an opportunity to bring people together across different labs, offices and departments, and to get to know one another whilst taking a break during the day.  We also asked people to post suggestions for the small things that we can do to look after our mental health into a box and wrote a blog summarising these tips (internal only)

  • In June 2022 we invited Department members to a talk by Professor Dick Passingham called "How to cope with poor mental health". This was a fascinating personal reflection in which Dick talked about his personal experience of pursuing an academic research career in neuroscience while also coping with poor mental health.